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A Search for Ancestors

A Search for Ancestors

Down narrow corridors of the Muskowekwan
School for Indigenous Children, we enter
the nightmare of our guide, Harry Desjarlais,
who’d been kidnapped and herded into dorms
with beds as long as caskets in a potter’s field.

The walls flake with tongues of paint
that speak the language in which he cries —
that his teachers scrubbed from his mouth,
so he could become a civilized Christian,
and not grow up to be a pagan like his parents.

Inside a shower, Harry pauses
where he’d found a classmate’s body—
the one who always made fun of nuns
with their dull habits and veils, white
as the cloth on God’s table where he prayed
ten times a day to be released from the priests’
torture and discovered Heaven’s gates
were closed to the people of his nation.

As we descend, we’re greeted by screams
of children playing hide-and-seek
atop unmarked graves of ancestors,
some younger than Harry’s granddaughter,
before they walked into the bonfire
from which we light bundles of sage
and smudge our bodies so as not to disturb
the spirits who’ve earned their rest.

In the courtyard, while boxcars rattle
towards unknown destinations, we lug
ground-penetrating radar, whose reflections
we weave into a quilt of images that resemble
a weatherman’s screen pockmarked with red
tornado cells scouring the open fields,
ready to sweep the candles and cascade of teddy
bears crouched on the steps of the school
into bison-crowded prairies on our hallowed ground.

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